Raising the flags

Visitors to the garden often ask what color each plant will make, so we decided to make flags to give a visual explanation. We bought silk banners and I dyed one in weld, one in madder and one in indigo, then Sandi painted the name of each plant on the appropriate color. Yesterday we installed the flags. Here is Sandi dancing with excitement!

And with the indigo flag in place.

The color of hollyhocks

And now, the color yarn made from our hollyhocks! There are two types of yarn here, Bare from Knit Picks (a merino/silk blend, the darker color) and a mohair/wool blend (the lighter color, this one entered the dyebath after the Bare had taken up some color). The yarn was mordanted in alum at 12% then dyed with fresh hollyhock blossoms at about a ratio of 2:1 (flowers to weight of yarn). The color is a little greener than I expected it to be, but lovely. Those Those are dried hollyhocks on the platter, ready for the next experiment! What color will these make?

What are the odds?

My plan for this blog is to keep the posts short and to the point, but this amazing thing just happened to me at the garden, and I have to share.

It has been ridiculously hot here, totally-out-of-character-for-the-place hot, so I went to check on the plants and maybe water today. When I arrived I could see a woman taking pictures in the hollyhocks. They are very photogenic. I was pleased she thought so too, and I thought that would make good conversation, so I approached her.

I asked her if she knew about the From Farm to Frame photo contest sponsored by ISLAND and the Crooked Tree Arts Center. She said she did not, so I began to tell her about it. We exchanged a few words and when she spoke I thought I had some long forgotten memory of her face, but I could not place it.  She said she was an artist, so the photos were a reference for her rather than works of art themselves.

And then I knew.

I asked her if she was a painter and she said yes. Then I asked her if she was Ann Fox. She got a very funny look on her face and replied a very tentative, “Yeeeeeeeeees”.

Here, in a dye garden hundreds of miles and 35 years from where we last met was my high school art teacher. And not just any art teacher, but the very person who modeled to my very young, very un-formed self the kind of artist and teacher I wanted to be. What are the odds that Ann Merrill from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina would happen onto a lavender farm in Horton Bay, Michigan? And that I would be there tending my plants at the very same time? And that I would get to tell her how important she has been to the person I am becoming?

Life is very sweet!

The beginning

A dye garden is growing in northern Michigan. Nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Horton Bay we have persicaria tinctoria and isatis tinctoria to make blue, rubia tinctoria to make red and reseda luteola to make yellow. We also grow black hollyhocks (alcea rosea nigra) and coreopsis and other plants as the colors strike our fancy.

Hosted by the kind people at Lavender Hill Farms, this dye garden is a group effort of interested people from North Central Michigan College. It is spearheaded by me, Shanna Robinson, professor of art and lover of all things color, and Sandi DiSante, doyenne of all growing things. Jasmine Lace Petrie, Dawn Swaim and Jami Blauuw-Hara plant and work and dye with us.

Follow along as we grow, harvest and dye our way through the seasons.